Welcome to something new here at Palace of Pistons: the first edition of a roundtable where some writers both on this site and (soon) from others reflect on Pistons and other NBA musings. For our first foray, we will be delving into how Detroit has faired in the first half of the season.
*These questions were posed before the Pistons 100-94 loss to the Utah Jazz.
For this edition, I posed a series of questions to three of our writers; Dylan Edenfield, Marty Tallman, and newcomer Jake Woods (who had his first piece, about Blake Griffin, here).
Question 1: Prior to the season the hiring of Dwane Casey was mostly viewed as a positive one over Stan Van Gundy. What is your assessment of Casey in his first season in Detroit?
Dylan: Casey has undoubtedly been a disappointment in Detroit, and I don’t think anyone’s disputing that. From my view, not much has changed as far as offense is concerned, and in my opinion, that’s been the biggest problem for the Pistons. Similar to the days of Marcus Morris iso-ball, players are frequently sitting around while watching Blake Griffin go to work by himself to score a bucket. Reggie Jackson, who is best when he has the ball in his hands, is frequently forced to spot up for a three-pointer in Casey’s offense, and while he hasn’t been terrible from there, it’s not optimal for a slashing-first point guard. Dwane Casey signed a five-year deal and isn’t going anywhere, but seeing so few changes to the point where some fans have started to campaign for the return of Stan Van Gundy isn’t a good sign for this team in the long run.
Marty: The Pistons currently sit five games under .500 and they are on the outside looking in at the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference so for those reasons alone, Coach Casey’s performance has been underwhelming. The Pistons have often looked unmotivated and Blake Griffin even admitted that effort and focus is a problem within the locker room. Most believed the 2018 NBA Coach of the Year Casey would able to fix that problem right away but this has not been the case. Another shot against Casey is his unpredictable rotations and underutilization of Luke Kennard.
Jake: With anything, you always need time to see your ideas play out and I think that’s what Dwane Casey needs in Detroit. I also believe the roster that he currently has is incapable of running his offense consistently. We saw what it can do when your “shooters” hit their shots in Los Angeles on Saturday but this has been few and far between since Detroit’s 14-6 start to the season. This is still an SVG roster mainly and the two players taken in the draft by this new regime have shown promise. Even though it doesn’t seem like right now, the team should get better with time.
Question 2: While Detroit was not considered a top team in the Eastern Conference, who (or what) is the main culprit behind their disappointing first half of the season?
Dylan: Similar to my answer in the last question, it’s the stagnation of the offense. It’s hard to blame just one player, as the lack of effort at times is a team-wide dilemma. Players aren’t being used to their strengths, and even when they are, players aren’t converting as well as they should be. NBA offenses these days require constant movement, on and off the ball, not ill-advised post-ups and last-second contested 3-pointers. The Pistons don’t have enough shot-creation to have as little to no movement in some possessions, and it’s taken a toll on the team as the season has progressed. Even in their wins early in the season, the lack of movement was struggling. Ish Smith, arguably the team’s best playmaker due to his elite speed, being sidelined due to injury for so long is also a culprit for the Pistons’ ugly stretch of games. Most players are only as good as the system they play in, and the Pistons will struggle until they integrate some off-ball movement into their offense regardless of who they may trade for at the deadline.
Marty: The Pistons biggest problem this season has been the injury bug. Ish Smith has missed 19 straight games while Luke Kennard has missed 16 games and Reggie Bullock has missed eight games this season. Even backup big man, Zaza Pachulia has missed the last seven games. The Pistons came into this season lacking quality depth at nearly every position so any injury is a huge problem for the team.
Jake: It feels like I could list the whole roster besides Blake Griffin and Bruce Brown but the finger has to be pointed at Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond. The two player’s salary adds up to 42 million this year which is roughly 35% of Detroit’s cap space. Drummond is averaging 17 points per game and Jackson is currently at 15 points per game, which isn’t incredibly bad, but when you add in the rest of the roster not contributing much, these two players making that much money is the achilles heel of Detroit.
Question 3: Blake Griffin has been the most impactful player, there is no dispute about that. But what about the second-most?
Dylan: This is a hard question to answer, as basically every player outside of Blake Griffin has been disappointing this season, box score stats aside. Nevertheless, I’d have to go with Andre Drummond here, even if his averages have overinflated his impact this season. He continues to rebound at an all-time rate, but at some point, Detroit needs a little more from the seventh-year center, and it just hasn’t come to fruition. After seeing Drummond’s frequent workout videos that showcased his seemingly improved jump shot, we’ve seen little to none of that shown throughout the season. Drummond is a top-eightish center in the league and undoubtedly the Pistons second-best player, but in my opinion, he hasn’t been close to what was expected of him this season.
Marty: At the risk of being anti-climatic, Andre Drummond has been the second most impactful player this season for good and bad reasons. Drummond is currently averaging 16.8 points and 15 rebounds per game but unfortunately, he often looks unmotivated on the defensive side of the ball.
Jake: This was a pick your poison situation to me, but I would say Reggie Bullock has had the most impact because of his ability to shoot the three. Bullock is sitting right at 40 percent from three and that’s the key stat that can turn Detroit from a fringe playoff team to an actual challenger for teams in the eastern conference. For the price, Detroit has Bullock, he by far has the best value.
Question 4: If the season ended today, the Pistons would not make the playoffs. In the second half, which player needs to step up the most to help Detroit make it to the postseason?
Dylan: “Who do the Pistons need to step up in order to make the playoffs” has been a question every season for the last few years, and the answer has been the same for me each time it’s asked: Reggie Jackson. We might’ve seen the best of Jackson’s tenure in Detroit in his second season with the team (2016), but this team has always been at it’s best when Jackson is playing at his best. Hopefully, Jackson can be used to his strengths more as the season progressed and perform efficiently, but my confidence that he will return to his pre-injury form continues to dwindle. His asthma and knees limit just how good he could’ve been, but he still shows flashes of greatness every once in a while. Let’s be realistic here, Jackson isn’t going to become a 20-point scorer every night, but what this Pistons team needs more than anything else is above-average point guard play, and Reggie Jackson can still be capable of providing that.
Marty: Ish Smith will be the Pistons most important cog down the stretch of the season. Smith’s fast tempo and ability to create his own shot adds a completely different dimension to the Pistons second unit that is currently ranked 24th in bench scoring with 33.7 points per game.
Jake: If the roster stays how it is then it has to be Reggie Jackson. Fifteen points per game just isn’t going to cut it from someone who once “wanted his own team and to be the guy”. Getting benched for Jose Calderon a few games ago was the lowest of the lows for RJax and a moment I would have never seen coming when SVG made the trade with OKC.
Question 5: Many fans have been pleading with the front office to make a trade to shake up the roster. While CJ McCollum or Bradley Beal may be tough to attain, what player should the Pistons target as the trade deadline gets closer?
Dylan: The Pistons need to make a move, no doubt, but the last thing I want to happen is the Pistons move another first-round pick for an immediate quick fix. Blake Griffin has been great, but the Pistons haven’t performed much better (and in fact, have played somewhat worse) since trading Tobias Harris. Detroit would have a lot more wiggle room this offseason with Harris off the books, and would’ve been able to rebuild had they chosen to do so (probably not). I don’t want the Pistons to chase a big name at the deadline, but I’d like to see them chase a cheap, young talent that maybe hasn’t seen the floor much for their current team. The best-case scenario for the Pistons is to make the playoffs while simultaneously improving for the future.
Marty: The Pistons should look to target Kemba Walker. Walker is finishing out his deal with the Hornets and he has not looked motivated all season. A change of scenery would be good for Kemba and if the Pistons are able to keep Griffin and Drummond, the Pistons would be a top 5 team in the East. Here is the trade scenario:
Jake: Many fans have been pleading with the front office to make a trade to shake up the roster. While CJ McCollum or Bradley Beal may be tough to attain, what player should the Pistons target as the trade deadline gets closer? If Beal is going to get traded before this year’s deadline, he is the player the Pistons must try and hold of. A perfect running mate for Blake Griffin who will help spread the floor and can play defense, to me this is the best move the Pistons can make.
Question 6: Assuming other teams do not make any major moves, do the Pistons make the playoffs?
Dylan: Yes. The Pistons, despite their awful stretch over the last month and a half, are only a half-game out of the playoffs. Blake Griffin will get them there, even if not much changes over the rest of the season. The Pistons are more talented than the Hornets and Heat, and their veteran experience hopefully can catapult them over the up-and-coming Nets as well. Changes should come sooner rather than later, and if they don’t, this team has bigger issues than making the playoffs this season. Detroit has a top-25 player in the league, the best rebounder in the league, and a few role players that have shown improvement over last season. Detroit was expected to make the playoffs both of the last two seasons but didn’t, mostly due to injuries. Detroit’s top players have all had surprisingly good health this season, so missing the playoffs this year would easily be the most disappointing.
Marty: If the Pistons are able to stay relatively healthy, they should be able to beat out the Charlotte Hornets and the Brooklyn Nets for the final spot in the Eastern Conference. However, the Bradley Beal led Wizards now look better than ever so they are a threat as well.
Jake: Even after the win at the Clippers I still say no, this team just isn’t built to win and if they do not make the playoffs then I am all for a tank season from here on out to try and get Blake some sort of help.
(Featured image by Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports)